The People's Perspective on Medicine

Ugly Secret Of Hormone Withdrawal Reaction

Q. In 1985, after 8 months of very annoying hot flashes, I sought medical help and was prescribed Premarin. The first dosage was too strong and caused many headaches. It was cut back and later Provera was added “to protect my uterus.” After I had taken these drugs for 15 years, my doctor told me two years ago I had “gotten all the benefit I could get” and suggested I stop taking them. Since I had been asking about their safety for most of this time, I was happy to stop.

But when I stopped, HOT FLASHES and NIGHT SWEATS began all over again and I am still suffering with them. This is an ugly secret that I have heard nothing about.

Nobody ever talks about this happening. Somebody needs to make women aware of what they are in for when they stop taking hormone replacement therapy.

A. Not all women experience hot flashes after stopping estrogen, but you are right that this complication is not frequently mentioned. Many women are now contemplating stopping their hormone replacement therapy because of new evidence that it may increase the risk of breast cancer and heart disease.

Susan Love, M.D., is an expert on women’s health. She suggests tapering off Premarin gradually to reduce the discomfort of resurgent hot flashes. Talk to your doctor about taking a pill every other day for a few months, then going to a reduced dosage every other day before you stop for good.

Q. I am dreading an upcoming family reunion. My in-laws are lovely people, but because two members of the family are strict vegetarians, everyone has to eat accordingly.

The last time we got together, I really suffered. All those beans, chickpeas, lentils and vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, eggplant and onions gave me such gas I was miserable. I felt bloated and I was smelly. Is there any way to avoid this problem without sneaking out for meals?

A. Stock up on Beano and activated charcoal before your visit. Beano contains an enzyme that helps break down some of the complex sugars in beans and other vegetables that contribute to gas. Activated charcoal may soak up gas that has already been created.

There are ways to prepare beans that are less likely to cause problems. Readers have suggested soaking them in Sprite, adding seaweed or a potato to cooking beans (and then discarding it). Herbs such as epazote (from Mexico), ginger or hing (asafoetida from India) are traditional ways to reduce gas from food.

We are sending you our Guide to Digestive Disorders, with more details on how to cope with gas. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $2 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped, self-addressed envelope: Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. G-3, P. O. Box 52027, Durham, NC 27717-2027.

Fennel tea is another time-honored way to fight flatulence. Use one teaspoon crushed fennel seeds per cup of hot water.

Q. Thank you for telling me about Drysol underarm antiperspirant. This is the first product that has actually controlled my embarrassing sweating.

A. Drysol is a 20 percent solution of aluminum chloride. It is available only by prescription. When used at night on dry, unshaven skin it can be quite effective. Eventually you may only need to use it once or twice a week.

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    About the Author
    Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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